Videos on Release

Dancer, Texas, Pop. 81

In the beautiful but desolate terrain outside of El Paso, the inhabitants of Dancer, Texas, are preparing for an important event. Five seniors are graduating from high school on Saturday. Four of the graduates are boys. The four are delighted that they are finally leaving academia. They are also anticipating Monday, the day they will catch the bus to Los Angeles and a new life. But as Dancer, Texas, Pop. 81 reveals, these long-held intentions don't pan out as expected. The four find that familial responsibilities might hold them behind in their tiny burg. Keller (Breckin Meyer) has a feeble grandfather he's been caring for. Terrell Lee (Peter Facinelli) is expected to join the family oil business. Squirrel (Ethan Embray) has a drunken father to contend with. John (Eddie Mills) is being pressured by a younger sister, Josie (Ashley Johnson), to stay on the family ranch. Over a three-day period, the four have to decide if they have the ability, and the wish, to leave town. In many ways, Dancer, Texas, Pop. 81 is an old-fashioned film. It's nonviolent, it's family friendly, it's gently amusing. And it manages to be engrossing and thought provoking. A definite gem.

Passion in the Desert

It's 1798, and a troop of Napoleon's crack artillery is finding it difficult to find, much less defeat, bands of Egypt's wily Mameluke warriors. Laden with heavy European weapons, the French soldiers are trudging through the unforgiving Saharan sands in a seemingly futile effort to bring the ancient African country under Napoleon's rule. Their frustration is stressed further by the arrival of Captain Augustin (Ben Daniels), who is escorting an eccentric artist called Ventare (Michel Piccoli). Napoleon has assigned Ventare to accompany the soldiers and draw any Egyptian wonders he encounters. Ventare's obsessiveness leads to his and Augustin's separation from the troops in a sandstorm. The captain is enraged, but as an honorable officer he's determined to rescue them. The mysterious Sahara, however, defeats him. Driven mad by thirst and pursued by angry Bedouins, he stumbles into ancient ruins and a leopard's cave. Instead of mauling Augustin, the female cat adopts him, and a strange but dangerous relationship begins between the man and the big cat. Based on an eponymous novella by Honoré de Balzac, Passion in the Desert is an otherworldly experience. It explores how the most civilized of men can be reduced to the level of a beast in extreme circumstances.

4 Little Girls

On Sept. 15, 1963, Addie Mae Collins, Carole Denise McNair, Cynthia Wesley, and Carole Rosa-mond Robertson were attending Sunday school in the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. No one expected that these fine, young, black Americans would become the innocent victims of the civil-rights unrest that had been haunting Birmingham, Ala., for years. Yet at an hour when many townsfolk were home enjoying breakfast, the four girls were torn to shreds by a bomb planted by a white supremacist. The tragedy proved galvinizing for the civil-rights movement. The leaders of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference arrived in Birmingham and promised to help bring justice to the suffering. Millions of Americans who hadn't been paying much attention to the unrest in the South suddenly focused on the injustices experienced by blacks. The civil authorities started a long campaign to find and convict the bomber. 4 Little Girls, a documentary by Spike Lee that originally appeared on HBO, follows all this and much more as it examines the events that surrounded the bombing. In a series of touching interviews, it explores who the girls were, reveals the grief their deaths left behind, and examines the causes and effects of their tragedy.


Hollywood studio Dreamworks SKG is on a mission: to release animated films as good as any of Disney's classics. The latest Dreamworks video entry in this high-risk venture is Antz, a comic look at an unhappy ant and the teeming ant colony he resides in. The ant is Z (voice of Woody Allen), who is suffering existential angst. As the middle child in a family of 5 million, he's feeling neglected. As an ant who can lift only 10 times his body weight, he's feeling puny. And as a worker who spends his days digging tunnels with thousands of others, he's feeling unimportant. But all that changes when he meets Princess Bala (voice of Sharon Stone). Feeling slighted by her fiance, General Mandible (voice of Gene Hackman), this heiress heads to a workers' bar. Her encounter with Z sets the two ants on a series of adventures that permanently changes their futures. Although Antz is somewhat incoherent politically — it seems to recommend both the individualism of democracy and the stultification of socialism — it does have moments of high comedy. Children will enjoy the video's tale, while adults will enjoy the wry asides and cultural references.

Loretta Seyer